Jack McDuff – The Concert McDuff

Jack McDuff
The Concert McDuff

(Prestige – 1963/66-2002)
by John Barrett

In the early ‘Sixties an organist left the band of Willis Jackson, formed his own group, and took to the road. Their soul-jazz sound – low in flash, high in explosive intensity – got them noticed in a hurry, thanks to a long series of live albums. Jack McDuff’s style, always steamy, was reinforced by one of the era’s best bands: Red Holloway’s surging sax, the busy drums of Joe Dukes, and a young George Benson, full of fire. At all times they are together: 1963’s “Undecided” cooks from the onset, as Jack keeps the riffs coming. He hits a two-finger quaver, Dukes pounds the accents hard, and Red goes his way, sweet ‘n’ tough. Benson has a good solo, Dukes’ is better – but the crowd is strangely silent.

They’re more into “Love Walked In”, where Holloway cruises: he’s like a cross between Lester Young and Sonny Stitt. George bubbles along nicely, giving each note a little snap; Jack keeps the chords punchy and the single notes flying. For a breather, Benson steps forth on “Midnight Sun” – so slow, so pretty. McDuff’s notes are blunt, without vibrato; it sounds like a piano, as Red does his best Gene Ammons. The crowd, laughs, talks, and enjoys itself – this is pure people-music, from a group that knew very well what the audience likes.

The main attraction is a 1964 album from Stockholm, heard in its entirety. By this point Benson’s sound had matured – he’s on top of “Swedenin'”, with his notes raining down. Dukes prods him with the hi-hat, and sudden cymbals; Holloway is lovably gritty. “Girl from Ipanema” features chordwork from Benson, more of Jack’s “piano” … and applause that sounds very fake.

“Another Goodun'” sounds genuinely live, a smoky slice of back-room blues; here George twangs, and McDuff rolls. Red takes the spotlight on “Save Your Love for Me”, blowing like Jug as Benson twinkles in the background. (The group sings the last verse, in a charming touch – and there’s that fake applause again!) “Four Brothers” is off to the races, and 1966’s “Spoonin'” sports a mean 6/8 meter, where Holloway bleats fiercely and Joe Dukes keeps marching along. Making music like this is like riding a bicycle – you don’t forget how, and you don’t want to.